11/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Homosexuality as a Weapon of Torture

News organizations reported Friday morning that eight ArmorGroup contract guards identified in the sexually explicit photos by a US State Department investigator have been fired. Two others have resigned; other guards are still under investigation. We can only hope that the State Department will also now investigate how homosexuality is being used as a weapon of torture.

When I first saw the explicit photos on Gawker of the "sexually confused frat boys" who are under contract with the US State Department to guard the US Embassy in Afghanistan, my brain just could not stop screaming about the total hypocrisy of military and paramilitary life.

These hyper-macho straight contactors, many former military personnel, according to the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO), get to party down in drunken exhibitions, pretending to have anal sex, doing "butt shots," and "eating potato chips out of ass cracks" to blow off steam in the high-pressured environment of fighting a war. But if a gay military guy in Afghanistan -- or any other situation -- even mentions his sexual orientation, he's kicked out of his job and ex-communicated from the religion that worships all things male.

Surely the gay community would rise up and point to these sexual party pictures as evidence that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is inherently unfair. Nope. In fact, many of the gay guys with whom I shared emails shrugged and said these naked sexual frat boy hazing "animal house" activities go on all the time. No big deal.

POGO thought it was a big deal, sending a strongly worded letter to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, that said in part:

The guards have come to POGO because they say they believe strongly in the mission, but are concerned that many good guards are quitting out of frustration or being fired for refusing to participate in the misconduct, and that those responsible for the misconduct are not being held accountable...

Numerous emails, photographs, and videos portray a Lord of the Flies environment. One email from a current guard describes scenes in which guards and supervisors are "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity...." (Attachment 2) Photograph after photograph shows guards -- including supervisors -- at parties in various stages of nudity, sometimes fondling each other. These parties take place just a few yards from the housing of other supervisors....

Multiple guards say this deviant hazing has created a climate of fear and coercion, with those who declined to participate often ridiculed, humiliated, demoted, or even fired. The result is an environment that is dangerous and volatile.

Some guards have reported barricading themselves in their rooms for fear that those carrying out the hazing will harm them physically. Others have reported that AGNA management has begun to conduct a witch hunt to identify employees who have provided information about this atmosphere to POGO....

More broadly, the behavior is evidence of a complete breakdown of discipline and the chain of command among guards and their leadership, itself a significant security issue.

Over at, John Aravosis refuted the POGO report dubbing the party a "Lord of the Flies" scene.

From what I've seen in the pictures at least, I'm not too upset. Providing security in Afghanistan, of all places, has got to be a nasty job, so I'm willing to cut some slack in how these guys get their jollies during their time off. The photos, in my view, prove absolutely nothing -- they're hardly Abu Ghraib. The other allegations alleged, perhaps. But we need to see the evidence -- these photos, in my view, don't constitute evidence of much other than some of the guys being damn hot.

But now comes an in-depth investigation by Youth Radio detailing an abuse of power by at least one military supervisor toward those under their command that includes using "simulated" homosexuality as an Abu Ghraib-style technique.

A Youth Radio investigation has found that between 2004 and 2006, sailors in the U.S. Navy's Bahrain Military Working Dogs Division, or "The Kennel," were subjected to an atmosphere of sexual harassment, psychological humiliation, and physical assaults.

In particular, in July 2005 Petty Officer Joseph Christopher Rocha, 19, said he was "singled out for abuse by his chief master-at-arms, Michael Toussaint, and others on the base, once Rocha made it clear he was not interested in prostitutes. "I was in a very small testosterone-driven unit of men," Rocha says. "I think that's what began the questioning -- you know -- 'Why don't you want to have sex with her? Are you a faggot?'"

The "hazing" continued for two years, sailors told Youth Radio, "because of a series of threats [from Toussaint] that were also integral to the culture of the unit, which not only tolerated abuse, but also invited it."

Petty Officer Shaun Hogan told Youth Radio, "Petty Officer Rocha and another junior sailor...were instructed to go into a classroom by Chief Michael Toussaint, who orchestrated the entire training. And Chief Toussaint asked them to simulate homosexual sex on a couch."

Next in the simulation, Hogan says a handler and his dog barged onto the scene, and that's when "one person...would sit up, kind of wipe off their mouth, the other would get up, and they would be fixing their fly."

Rocha says Toussaint bullied him, "telling me I needed to be more believable, act more queer, have a higher pitched voice, make the sounds and gestures more realistic...I didn't think I had a choice...It made me feel that I wasn't a human being, that I was an animal, rather."

Rocha says at the time, he had no gay friends, no male lovers, and wasn't even fully out to himself about his sexuality. "The fact that I was starting to figure out that I was a homosexual, it was the most degrading thing I've ever experienced in my life." Still, eight thousand miles away from home, he was afraid to report the constant hazing. And Rocha was not the only one."

Youth Radio also uncovered another incident in which "two female service members were ordered to simulate sex with each other on video. According to the Findings of Fact, the women were handcuffed to a bed and appeared to be naked under a sheet."

The Navy later promoted Toussaint.

Aaron Belkin, an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Palm Center at UC Santa Barbara who has long argued against the military's anti-gay policies, says the abuse heaped upon soldiers was not "hazing" but torture.

By referring to torture as "hazing" or "homosocial behavior" we make the violence seem like it is okay, just boys being boys. In fact, the victims of such treatment often develop PTSD and have suicidal ideation.

But this is not just an isolated series of incidents, Belkin notes.

One of my doctoral students just completed her dissertation on military training, a project for which she actually went through boot camp as a part of her research. I begged her not to go to boot camp to do her research because i believed she could get assaulted. Sure enough, every single woman in her training was sexually harassed, including one woman who was raped....

[T]he pattern of violence is not an accident, but reflects official policy, including the "don't ask, don't tell" law which makes it almost impossible for gay victims to report abuse. And even though the military does have policies in place to deter violence against women, these policies often produce contradictory results. For example, I am aware of a rape case that was not reported because the base commander had announced a "zero-tolerance" policy for assault, which the troops took to mean (accurately according to people I interviewed) that he did not want to hear about incidents.

Today's news should be a reminder that war is a violent business, and the people we train to conduct it often direct that violence at one another. Whether we're talking about private contractors or military service members, our collective national stereotypes about the purity of the uniform leave a lot unspoken.

But it's not just the uniform. Any minute now some religious right-winger is going to point to those supervisors in Kabul and Bahrain and claim they are homosexual sexual predators pretending to be heterosexual. In fact, they might say, this "deviant" behavior is precisely why there must be a total ban against gays in the military so such behavior doesn't become the norm (even though it apparently already is).

Why do I think the right wing will make use of this -- secretly, behind the scenes, if not openly? Because they are enthralled by the taboo of sexuality -- a magnetic attraction they can then either justify with brutality (rape or gay bashing) or repulsion via policy ("Don't Ask, Don't' Tell or the supposed "zero tolerance" of sexual harassment) or over-the-top -shame-designated moralizing. Remember Attorney General Ed Meese plunging into the detailed depths of the ills of pornography or Special Prosecutor Ken Starr detailing the explicit encounters between Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton?

The bottom line: policy makers must grow a backbone and truly understand that if their job is to ultimately protect the citizenry, they are complicit in torture if they continue to dismiss abuse of power as "boys will be boys" or bullying or "hazing" as if everyone is just having some good clean fun.

Oh -- and the White House had no comment on the Afghanistan story.

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